Surely, argued her practical mind, he could never have been so foolish as to let himself care deeply for one who so obviously had only the most casual regard for him! She knew women did these silly things, but surely not men—and hard-headed men like Max!
Besides, what could he possibly see in her? Was it not Violet upon whom his attention was constantly focussed? And small wonder, his own repudiation of sentiment notwithstanding! Did not all men look at her with dazzled eyes? Even Nick paid her that much homage, though Olga was privately a little doubtful as to whether he altogether liked her brilliant friend.
No, she had never for an instant seriously contemplated this possibility which Nick had whispered into her ear. She wondered what had made him do it? Had he meant to put her on her guard. Or—staggering thought!—had he thought to wake her heart to some response? Was he taking Max’s part? Did he want her to be kind to him?
She pictured Max’s wrath, sardonically expressed, should he ever become acquainted with that move of Nick’s. She fancied he did not much like Nick and that suspicion of itself was quite sufficient to present him in an unfavourable light to her half-involuntary criticism. How could she ever possibly begin to care for a man who did not admire her hero? Oh, why had she ever placed herself under an obligation to him, ever consented to the forging of that bond between them, elastic though it might be?
Of course it could be severed. He had said so. And severed it should be at once. But why had she ever suffered it? It weighed upon her intolerably now that she realized in what foundry its links had been cast. Even her enemy’s impertinences would be easier to bear—now that she knew.
Again, as morning broke, she told herself that this thing was an impossibility after all, that Nick had been misled, or had spoken in jest. It seemed the only sane conclusion by the practical light of day, and, reassured, at last she slipped into untroubled slumber. Yes, she was sure Max was much too shrewd to let himself be caught by a girl who did not even want him. He would never waste his valuable time over such as she.
Yet while she slept, a curious memory came to her—a memory that was half a dream—of a hand that had stroked her head with a sure and soothing touch, of lips very near her hair that had whispered words of tenderness. It was not a disturbing dream by any means. She slept through it into a deeper peace with a smile upon her face.